All funds raised will be received into the Save Lea Marshes bank account and will go directly to 5 independent ecologists.
We would like to introduce our experts to you:
“My interest in the natural environment and urban ecology was spurred by plants and botany has been a major feature in my paid and voluntary work for 30 years. My work has been concentrated in London where I have carried out habitat surveys for the GLA, for a consultancy and on a freelance basis. The vegetation of our cities is what make them liveable and never fails to surprise me.”
Rob will be carrying out ornithological surveys of the whole Waterworks area and will also be responsible for a professional collation of the report findings.
“I’ve been involved in bird surveys and research work for almost 30 years. After 12 years working with the RSPB and several years working in the Middle East, I’ve been working as a freelance conservation consultant since 2014. I’ll be undertaking surveys of breeding and non-breeding birds as well as assessing the potential for habitat management to attract new bird species.”
Many of you will know Russell from his amazing work locally with the Tree Musketeers.
Here’s Russell’s introduction: “I’ve been an arboriculturalist and ecologist for 20 years and have lived in Hackney for 30 years. I will be surveying for invertebrates especially native bees. Invertebrates are extremely diverse and usually overlooked. Many nationally scarce or even rare species may occur on the Meadow because of its mosaic of habitats including: old trees, deadwood, open water, bare sandy ground, scrub and open grassland.”
It is an unfortunate fact that much of the material that we post on this site consists of negative comments on the work of the Lea Valley Regional Park Authority. So you may feel rather a weary sense of déjà vu on coming across The Lee Valley: time for a rethink by Laurie Elks. But you shouldn’t — because this document was written 40 years ago! I do urge you to read it and, as you do so, ask yourself how many of the criticisms it contains are just as valid today as they were when they were written. (And it also gives a very useful brief history of the first decade and a half of the Lea Valley Regional Park after its creation in 1965.)
The Gas Works development will have a negative impact on the openness of the Marshes and Jubilee Park and it will add to the feeling of overcrowding and being overlooked in those using these spaces.
The Marshes are Metropolitan Open Land. The references to Green Belts in the NPPF and case law below also apply to Metropolitan Open Land. NPPF 133. The Government attaches great importance to Green Belts. The fundamental aim of Green Belt policy is to prevent urban sprawl by keeping land permanently open; the essential characteristics of Green Belts are their openness and their permanence. Waltham Forest Council’s own ‘Green Belt and Metropolitan Open Land Review’ says, regarding the Ice Centre at Leyton Marsh, see para. 5.16, ‘it supports such relocation as this would provide an opportunity to rationalise the land uses in MOL3 and enhance the sense of openness, particularly views north-south along the Lea Valley’.
Plainly Waltham Forest considers ‘sense of openness’ to be an important issue when it comes to the impact of large scale developments like the one at the Gas Works and others planned for the future.
2. Visual impacts do harm to the openness of such important green spaces.
NPPF 144. When considering any planning application, local planning authorities should ensure that substantial weight is given to any harm to the Green Belt. ‘Very special circumstances’ will not exist unless the potential harm to the Green Belt by reason of inappropriateness, and any other harm resulting from the proposal, is clearly outweighed by other considerations”
“Whether, in the individual circumstances of a particular case, there are likely to be visual as wellas spatial effects of the openness of the Green Belt , and, if so, whether those effects are likely to be harmful or benign, will be for the decision-maker to judge. But the need for those judgments to be exercised is, in my view, inherent in the policy.”  Samuel Smith
“In my view, therefore, when the development under consideration is within one of the five categories of paragraph 90 and is likely to have visual effects within the Green Belt, the policy implicitly requires the decision-maker to consider how those visual effects bear on the question of whether the development would “preserve the openness of the Green Belt”.  Samuel Smith
The visual dimension of openness was considered in Turner v. SSCLG
Sales LJ interpreted the concept of openness as one which was “not narrowly limited to [a]
volumetric approach” but “is open-textured and a number of factors are capable of being relevant when it comes to applying it to the particular facts of a specific case” .
3. The developers seem to have made no serious assessment of the visual impacts on the neighbouring open spaces. They say:
14.6 “The completed Development will provide views of the taller buildings (Block D and E) which will assist in signposting Leyton from the wider area and will bring a positive use of a previously derelict site. The Development will have direct moderate to minor beneficial effects on TCA 1 Leyton Fringe as well as indirect moderate to minor beneficial effects on TCAs 2 and 3. Quod | LeaBridge Gasworks | Environmental Statement, Volume 1 | March 2020
2914.7 The completed Development will have no adverse effects on representative views of the Site, with the majority of effects considered to range between moderate to minor beneficial. Whilst there will be a noticeable change from a number of viewpoints, it is considered that overall, the Development will have a beneficial effect on the surrounding townscape. There will be no effect on Viewpoints 5 Lea Bridge Road, 9 Hackney Marshes Pavilion and 11 River Lea Towpath.
14.8 There is potential for cumulative effects on views from the east and south-east of the Site overlooking Leyton Jubilee Park (Viewpoints 2, 6 and 7). During the construction phase, effects will remain moderate adverse from these viewpoints and during the operational phase there will be moderate beneficial effects.
To say the Development will have ‘no adverse effects’ on views simply fails to address the harms described in the NPPF and case law. The applicants refer to the tall towers ‘signposting Leyton’. Protecting the Marshes and their openness for the well being of the residents of Leyton and other parts of Waltham Forest is of infinitely greater importance than a tall building marking its territory. This is a snapshot from their Planning Statement showing how the towers will overlook Jubilee Park:
Jubilee Park impression of towers
The applicants refer to ‘potential for cumulative effects on views’ at Jubilee Park during construction but then they say this will be beneficial on completion. How can this be described as beneficial? It is totally at variance with the need to preserve the sense of openness of the open space affected.
Below is a diagram showing the towers overlooking Jubilee Park. It is hard to see how this is anything other than oppressive when it comes to the openness of the open space.
On page 33 of their Planning Statement the applicants include one diagram suggesting visual impacts on Hackney Marshes from the pavilion at North Marsh. They do not provide any diagrams showing the impact from the south of Hackney Marsh or any diagrams showing the impact on the Marshes further north, at the Waterworks, Leyton Marsh or Walthamstow Marsh. Context is needed to show how the proposed development will fit with other construction in the area. No context is provided in the application. The reality is construction is steadily encroaching on the views from the Marshes thereby reducing their openness.
Above is a view of the Motion towers from Porter’s Field during construction. The two tall Gas Works towers are similar in height to the tallest Motion tower. Porter’s field is a similar distance from Motion as the Waterworks is from the Gas Works. Other examples below show how construction is intruding on the Marshes. The Gas Works will add to this intrusion.
Above is a view of the Motion towers from just south of the Waterworks cafe, below is a view from the Waterworks Nature Reserve:
Below, view from the Waterworks Meadow, the tallest Gas towers are the same height as the tallest. Motion tower and will be behind the FedEx warehouse.
A more specific view of the FedEx warehouse, the Gas Works towers will be behind the warehouse:
The same applies to Walthamstow and Leyton Marshes where towers are ever more visible. Above, view of Motion towers from the Aqueduct Path behind the Riding Centre.
Above, view of Motion towers from Walthamstow Marshes.
Below, view of Motion towers from Leyton Marsh:
Context of construction, view looking north from between Walthamstow and Leyton Marshes:
Above, view from Leyton Marsh showing future location of Gas Towers. The pylon on the right is on the Waterworks Nature Reserve. The Gas Works towers will be between the two pylons.
The Gas Works development will also be visible from Hackney Marshes. Picture below taken from south end of Hackney Marsh, the Gas Works will be to right of Motion tower.
The view above is not included in the applicants’ documents even though the view from the south of Hackney Marsh is supposed to be included. But then neither is the context of construction around the Marshes included anywhere.
Below is a view of the various constructions from the pavilion at Hackney North Marsh, the only location from which a projected view is provided.Increasingly the Marshes are becoming surrounded by towers.
The Gas Works towers will further impact on the openness of the open spaces on the Marshes and at Jubilee Park. This will cause harm to those spaces and to the benefits people derive from them.
4. Preventing harm to green open space is important for people’s health and well being.
The construction of such tall towers so close to important green open spaces will seriously detract from the enjoyment of those spaces and their usefulness as places of relaxation. Open space has increasingly been recognised as having important social and health benefits. It is important to ensure any construction near such spaces is appropriate and does not visually impact on those spaces in such a way to reduce those benefits.
Mind’s report ‘Ecotherapy: the green agenda for mental health’ presents the findings of the first ever study looking at how green exercise specifically affects people with mental health problems. A walk in a country park was compared with a walk in an indoor shopping centre. The results are startling:
● 71 per cent reported decreased levels of depression after the green walk
● 22 per cent felt their depression increased after walking through an indoor shopping centre
only 45 per cent experienced a decrease in depression
● 71 per cent said they felt less tense after the green walk
● 50 per cent said their feelings of tension had increased after the shopping centre walk
● 90 per cent had increased self-esteem after the country walk
● 44 per cent said their self-esteem decreased after window shopping in the shopping centre.
● 71 per cent reported decreased levels of depression after the green walk
● 71 per cent said they felt less tense after the green walk
● 90 per cent had increased self-esteem after the country walk
It is interesting to note that a ‘country’ walk has even more impact than a ‘green’ walk. It is worth
noting that the Marshes represent a very substantial area of green space, wilder than an urban park,
more closely resembling what might be called a country walk.
Mind is unequivocal about the potential benefits of rolling out eco-therapy in appropriate places,
“Hundreds of people have benefited from the green projects run by our local Mind associations but if prescribing ecotherapy was part of mainstream practice it could potentially help the millions of people across the country who are affected by mental distress.”
Recent surveys reflect the earlier findings of the Mind reports; a ‘sense of connectedness to nature is linked with greater psychological well-being’ (Cervinka et al., 2011; Howell et al., 2011).
Studies on obesity levels among children showed ‘levels are lower when there is more nearby green space to their residence’ (Dadvand et al., 2014). Proximity to green spaces is associated with reduced anxiety and mood disorder (Nutsford, Pearson and Kingham, 2013). A recent evidence review commissioned by the National Lottery Heritage Fund and the National Lottery Community Fund, conducted by Sheffield Hallam University and The University of Sheffield includes a peer review of 385 studies. It highlights the social benefits of parks and green spaces (predominantly in the UK, Europe, the US and Australia) and underlines the potential of parks to deliver ‘multiple health benefits for the local communities and support long term mental and physical health’ (Dobson et al, 2019). Facilitated visits to green spaces improved the self-esteem, mental well-being and social lives of people with disabilities (Jakubec et al., 2016).
It found that the main source of pride for adults is ‘countryside and scenery’ at 53% (more than any other category). Parks and green spaces are a key component of social infrastructure; ‘the physical places and organisations that shape the way people interact’ (Klinenberg, 2018, p.5).
Crucially, parks and green spaces enable people to connect with nature, which in turn benefits well being.
5. Impact of new populations on existing open spaces
The policy of building large scale high density housing developments near to open spaces will inevitably place greater stress on that open space. While new housing may well be needed the appropriateness of its location, size, scale and impact on existing resources has to be taken into account. Others have commented on the lack of adequate rail transport, doctors’ surgeries, schools and the impact on roads, even by a supposedly car free development, as not only will residents still have cars but they will also need delivery, repair and maintenance services and such like.
Open spaces do not exist simply for the benefit of developers who can then advertise the desirability of the location for future residents and make a profit out of these public resources. These open spaces, particularly the Marshes, serve a much wider community than those living in the immediate vicinity of Lea Bridge. This development will be added to developments already built and others being planned. It is worth noting the judgement in Turner as below:
“The openness of the Green Belt has a spatial aspect as well as a visual aspect , and the absence of visual intrusion does not mean that there is no impact on the openness of the Green Belt as a result of the location of a new or materially larger building there.” – Sales LJ in Turner
Source of legal information used:
Recent events at the Waterworks have shown how vulnerable open spaces are to inappropriate and damaging events. Waltham Forest Council sensibly refused an application to allow a music festival to take over that space. The events following that refusal, when people held barbecues and parties leaving behind quantities of litter for others to remove, showed that open space is not an unlimited resource. Care has to be taken to ensure it will remain available for future generations. Open spaces like Jubilee Park and the Marshes are of much greater value than the presence of a tower
signposting an urban destination, Allowing large scale developments to make unsustainable demands on these spaces will help to destroy such an important resource. It is imperative to avoid these harms.
Your email to the members was kindly forwarded to me and I would like to respond. We appreciate your addressing our concerns, but we think you may have slightly missed some of the points we were trying to make. Our emphasis was strongly on increasing the ability of the rangers to carry out the aspects of their job which is to do with education and information. We’ve been concerned with the decreasing number of rangers over the past few years as well as the cut in their hours and in the long term would very much like to see an increase in the number of rangers with the level of knowledge of and commitment to the marshes, as well as the skills to engage with the public in a friendly and non-threatening way.
In the short term, what we are asking for is for some furloughed staff to be unfurloughed and redeployed to work with the rangers to enhance that educational, informative and engaged role of the rangers. It’s allowable to pull people off of furlough when needed, and, from 1 July 2020, employers have the flexibility to bring previously furloughed employees back to work part-time – with the Government continuing to pay 80% of wages for any of their normal hours they do not work up until the end of August. So there really isn’t any excuse not to use furloughed staff, many of whom might be glad of working outside in the summer months. Additionally, it doesn’t seem right to employ new staff while at the same time accepting taxpayers’ money to keep existing staff on furlough.
We also take issue with your idea that the most cost effective solution would be to buy additional hours from the contractor and/or to employ casual staff. The most cost effective solution is prevention of the situation which has arisen during the lockdown and is likely to continue beyond it. We cannot emphasise enough that the way to do that is through changing people’s behaviour through explanation of the rules and why they exist, through educating them about the qualities of the green spaces and by enabling them to understand the importance of enjoying the area while at the same time looking after it and the wildlife that we share it with. My experience of the contractors is that they do not have either the skills for or the interest in that sort of engagement with the public. The rangers do and, presumably so do many of the furloughed venue staff as whose jobs were dealing with the public. More “official” presence is definitely needed, but it has to be the right kind of presence, or you risk alienating people without ever getting your message across.
When we attended the virtual LVRPA meeting in April, a member asked whether some of the venue staff could be redeployed to help the rangers as there was already at that time a significant increase in the number of people using the marshes. The answer was that everything was under control so there was no need. Even at the time, we in Save Lea Marshes were surprised by this, and as the numbers on the marshes increase with the various loosenings of the lockdown, the situation has worsened. People are spending whole days on the marshes and several are eating and drinking, including barbecuing (in the driest May for years!!), leaving their rubbish behind, cycling all over the grass (including in the SSSI), swimming in the Lea, walking in the reedbeds, and breaking the bird nesting signs in the filter beds. Attached are some photos of the site. And a link to a video of swimming in the very polluted Lea at the Waterworks meadow. https://www.newsflare.com/video/357437/sunseekers-test-social-distancing-by-swimming-in-londons-hackney-marshes-in-hot-weather
Many of the people now going to the marshes are new not only to the marshes, but also new to spending time in green spaces altogether. Any strategy for ensuring they don’t trash the area needs to start with education. Human beings can be self-absorbed and thoughtless, but hopefully generally well meaning. We think that if the rangers could spend time talking to people about the rules and why they’re there, then most people would follow them. And for those who don’t, then some sort of enforcement would need to take place.
Currently there are not enough rangers to do this. They have been tweeted by users about the litter, fires, etc, but have admitted that they are overwhelmed. It’s not fair to expect one ranger to deal with people, pick up the litter, and do all the work that they normally do at this time of year in the large areas they are individually responsible for. We are asking you to urgently redeploy staff to work with the rangers so that there can be pairs of LVRPA workers walking around chatting to people about how to enjoy the marshes without causing damage, and also, very importantly, sharing their knowledge of the area (including the wildlife) and all of its features so that people can appreciate what a special place it is. We would not like to see an increase in security personnel as we feel that friendly engagement is more effective than outright policing. Of course, for serious incidents, emergency services might be needed, but it will certainly be better if rangers are around to make the call and calm things down in the meantime.
A fire at the Waterworks meadow requiring a fire engine to extinguish it @AdamMcMadamMc
The outdoor spaces have replaced the indoor venues as the busiest part of the Park and needs to be staffed accordingly – for the protection of the land and wildlife and for the security A more visible ranger presence on the marshes will make the public feel safer and more engaged. With warnings about the danger of fires in beauty spots all over the country, the need for action is urgent and we strongly urge you to take the situation seriously and act accordingly before it’s too late and there is a more serious fire.
A red kite soars over the Waterworks Meadow. Image by Giles Greenwood.
Save Lea Marshes are delighted that the destructive Waterworks Festival will not go ahead on the wildflower meadow adjacent to the Waterworks Nature Reserve. The location was always patently inappropriate for such a large-scale commercial event and we are relieved that the Licensing Committee have recognised the detrimental impact the festival would have on wildlife and local communities.
The Record of Decisions detailing the rationale behind the outcome is available here
We are grateful to every single one of the 350+ objectors and all the organisations and residents we collaborated with to achieve this result!
The Waterworks Festival was opposed by Save Lea Marshes, Love Lea Bridge, Hackney Council, London Wildlife Trust, Hackney Marshes User Group, Manor Garden Allotments, Ive Farm Community Garden, Plastic Free Hackney, the Lea Bridge ward councillors in both boroughs, as well as countless local people.
Waltham Forest Council have made the right decision to protect this precious area of the marshes for the enjoyment of all and for Nature.
I appreciate there is a great deal going on at the moment, and that this is a time of great uncertainty for us all. But if you want to direct your anger and frustration somewhere, can I suggest the LVRPA deserve a shot across the bows…
The Lee Valley Regional Park Authority logo
Save Lea Marshes has been concerned for some time about the LVRPA’s intention towards the Waterworks meadow, the large area of land south of the Waterworks Centre and Nature Reserve. So, in June 2019, we wrote to Shaun Dawson, the Chief Executive to ‘request an opportunity to engage with the LVRPA on the future use of this area’. And, in July 2019, we were told that the Authority had commissioned an ecological consultant to carry out a habitat survey.
Although slightly suspicious of the LVRPA’s motives, we thought a habitat survey could only be a good thing, and we were cautiously optimistic about the results when we received the survey in January 2020. You can take a look at it here: 8672_LVRPA_Waterworks Meadow_NVC_V2.0 (1). We thought the findings sounded robust and we endorsed the management options. We said that we would look forward to the outcome of an internal meeting to review the site management options and to discussing the next steps. Our hope was, of course, that the whole site would improve as a result of the report.
They say hope springs eternal. It does. Now I ask myself if the hopeful are always foolish? When I first came to hear about the LVRPA in early 2012, when they were supporting the Olympic Delivery Authority to build a temporary basketball arena on Porter’s Field, Leyton Marsh, I advocated dialogue with the organisation. More experienced campaigners said it was a waste of time, but I doggedly met with Shaun Dawson every few months, patiently explained why people were so angry and asking the LVRPA to work more closely with local people to resolve our differences. And we have continued to try and engage with the LVRPA ever since. Most recently we asked them how we can trust the environmental promises they are making about the ice centre. But every time, every single time, we have been met with a wall of obfuscation and dissembling. Save Lea Marshes does not oppose the LVRPA because it likes to be in opposition. It opposes the LVRPA because of the LVRPA’s actions. This is a case in point…
While waiting to hear about the outcome of the internal meeting to review the site management options, we were blindsided by the horrific news that the LVRPA has agreed to rent the land to the Waterworks Festival. The site is next door to the Waterworks Nature Reserve and is designated as part of a Site of Metropolitan Importance for Nature Conservation (SMINC). If the noise and light pollution will be significant nuisance for human neighbours, it will be catastrophic for neighbouring wildlife, particularly birds. This is simply an inappropriate place to hold a one-off one-day music festival, let alone an annual three-day event.
And the LVRPA’s response? This from Shaun Dawson, the organisation’s Chief Executive:
I do hope that all is well with you.
I am writing on behalf of colleagues following our internal meeting on the subject of ‘rewilding’ of the golf course area last week. Cath and team have done some good work but it did strike us that the future management of the area and the approach the Authority adopts is very much dependent upon the WF’s Licensing Committee’s decision re: events on the site over the next few years. If the Licensing Committee gives us the green light then we are looking at a conservation management plan in that context. However if the Committee takes an alternative position, which I appreciate is the position that you and others that have submitted objections would like to see, we will then be looking at a different management regime.
We are keen to enhance the ecological value of the area but our objective is to achieve that in the context of part of the area being used for outdoor events. We shall await the outcome of the Licensing Committee meeting and then take the work forward. We will be in touch after the Licensing Committee meeting to arrange a discussion with you.
So, to paraphrase, Cath Patrick, the LVRPA’s Conservation Manager, has done ‘some good work’ but we’ll ignore all of it if we can make some money from the site. From the mouth of the Chief Executive we have the clearest confirmation yet that the LVRPA cares about money more than the environment.
We should be angry about this. Very, very angry about this.
But let’s do a little bit more than just be angry… We have been delighted by the wave of opposition to the Waterworks Festival and to the number of objections to the premises licence that have been logged with Waltham Forest Council. I’d love to shine this beacon of common sense on the LVRPA now. So, will you help us by writing to Shaun Dawson and copying all the Authority Members? You can use the template below. Or you can write your own letter.
Subject: A complaint about your approach to land management at the Waterworks
Save Lea Marshes has shared your recent email to Abigail Woodman and I wish to complain about your approach to land management at the Waterworks.
The nub of your position, quoting from your email, is as follows:
the future management of the area and the approach the Authority adopts is very much dependent upon the WF’s Licensing Committee’s decision re events on the site over the next few years.
This seems to be an astonishing approach for a statutory authority to adopt towards the environment, especially an authority whose primary function is to protect its environmental assets.
And, when you refer to a “different management regime”, we think you are saying that the Authority will wash its hands of the Waterworks site if it cannot generate revenue from regular events.
This is of course the first time you have formally flagged an intention to stage regular events “over the next few years” although we inferred from the start that this was the Authority’s intention.
Also, and we may have got this wrong, we think you are implying that it would be a realistic decision on our part to acquiesce in this licensing application, and encourage others to do so, if we want to see plans for the future management of the area that we would be content with.
We think it would be most helpful to the Authority’s understanding of the position if we spell out the reasons why the Faustian pact you appear to be proposing is wholly unacceptable:
We are wholly opposed to pop festivals or other large events on the site and this position will not change.
We have made it clear, over a long period, that we are open to discussing options for the management of the Waterworks estate and there has never been any reciprocation on your part. Your email, with this threat of an undefined “different management regime”, sees you continue your approach of keeping local people in the dark.
It also seems very clear that you intend to bypass other stakeholders who ought to be consulted. Our understanding is that if the Park Authority intends to abandon or vary its plans for the Waterworks estate, as set out in its Area 2 Proposals, that is a variation of the Park Plan which requires certain consultative processes. We see no sign that the officers of the Authority are willing to share their plans with the democratically accountable Authority members, let alone wider stakeholders. How can you possibly justify that?
We cannot overlook the obvious fact that the Authority defines its position on the Waterworks estate primarily in terms of raising money and not by reference to its duties to improve and preserve the Park. We are aware that it was the Park Authority’s initiative to sell off a large portion of the Waterworks estate as “enabling development” for the ice centre. Having abandoned the notion of enabling development, the Authority has nevertheless offered up much of the land in response to Waltham Forest’s call for sites, and we assume that much of the estate has been deemed to be no longer required for Park Purposes under your Corporate Land and Property Strategy. Now you are seeking a revenue stream, and no doubt a profit, before proposing a “management strategy” (which we have not yet seen) for the area. The Park Authority seems deaf to the fact that people here in Waltham Forest and Hackney want to see the Park better managed as connected and cherished green space and not as a source of revenue to keep the Authority’s show on the road.
It would be very helpful to have your clear and prompt response to these points.
Unrealistic image of the new ice centre, showing mature trees (the mature trees were felled here)
The Lee Valley Regional Park Authority (LVRPA) wants to replace the current ice centre on Lea Bridge Road with a building that is almost twice the size. If planning permission is granted, it means we will loose precious Metropolitan Open Land (MOL).
Lea Valley Ice Centre, Lea Bridge Road, Leyton, London, E10 7QL. Application ID: 194162
I wish to object to the planning application 194162 to build an ice centre on Lea Bridge Road. My objection centres on the fact that the proposal constitutes inappropriate development on Metropolitan Open Land (MOL) and the applicant has not made out the case for ‘very special circumstances’ to outweigh the harm to MOL. I also made comments about biodiversity and contaminated land.
Metropolitan Open Land
The site of the proposed ice centre is MOL and it is settled law that MOL has the same protections in law as Green Belt. Section 143 of The National Planning Policy Framework (2019) states that, ‘Inappropriate development is, by definition, harmful to Green Belt and should not be approved except in very special circumstances.’
Local authorities are directed, at Section 145 of the NPPF, to regard the construction of new buildings as inappropriate in Green Belt except in a number of exceptional circumstances. The proposed development does not meet the requirements of any one of the exceptions and is, therefore, inappropriate development on Green Belt. In order to persuade the planning authority to grant planning permission, the applicant must, therefore, prove that ‘very special circumstances’ exist. It does not and the proposed development is consequently contrary to the NPPF, as well as Policy 7.17 of the London Plan, Policies G2, G3 and G4 of the Draft London Plan, Policy CS5 of the Waltham Forest Local Plan and Policy 84 of the Draft Waltham Forest Local Plan.
The LVRPA states that, ‘the VSC case and the benefitsthat will accrue as a result of the development of the replacement ice centre will clearly outweigh the harm to MOL’ [my emphasis]. Yet there is nothing ‘clear’ about their case. Most of the circumstances the LVRPA has advanced are not reasons why the ice centre should be built on MOL that can contribute towards ‘very special circumstances’. Many of them, in the LVRPA’s own words, are benefits that will accrue if the development goes ahead. The only circumstance that should be considered is the fact that the current ice centre will need to close if the development does not go ahead. The LVRPA argues that this means that the community will lose a sporting venue and all the benefits that go alongside it, but this is only the case if the LVRPA decides not to pursue another site for a larger ice centre. At this point, the LVRPA is claiming that there is no other site but this is not true; the Eton Manor site is a viable alternative. Consequently, the fact that the current ice centre will close is not sufficient to outweigh the harm to MOL. The LVRPA has not made a case for ‘very special circumstances’ and the application should be denied.
Hedgehog on Leyton Marshes – shared with us by @BirderE10
The ‘Biodiversity survey and report’ (document 6D3) states that the development will provide more than the required 10% net gain in biodiversity. If the development goes ahead this should, of course, be welcomed. However, the ecological enhancements the applicant is proposing in the ‘Design and access statement’ (documents 6D7) are not dependent on the development. They could – indeed should – have been done anyway and the LVRPA should be challenged on its fitness to manage the site in the future given its poor record to date. That the site currently supports ‘largely common habitats of generally low ecological value’ (‘Design and access statement’ (documents 6D7)) is the fault of the LVRPA, no one else.
Significantly, the architect and landscape architect employed by the applicant admit that it is nigh on impossible to find a way to ensure the plans they develop – whether they be biodiversity plans, low carbon plans, plans to use responsibly-sourced recycled materials during the build or plans to limit noise and light – are implemented in full. Any benefits described by the applicant are possible future benefits, possible future benefits that might not materialise, and they come at a cost to existing wildlife and to the local community. If the development were to be granted permission, it would be critical that robust long-term planning conditions were put in place to ensure the LVRPA keeps to its biodiversity promises given the way they have let the site deteriorate up till now. Similarly, it would be important that strong planning conditions were put in place to ensure the low-carbon, environmentally-sensitive design and build criteria that minimise light and noise pollution are not watered down by the contractor during the build.
Contaminated soil, previously excavated on Leyton Marsh and left in piles until we lobbied for its removal as toxic waste.
Many people enjoy spending time in open green space throughout the year and Porter’s Field, Leyton Marsh, adjacent to the site, is particularly well used by people of all ages. Given this, it is concerning that the ‘Land contamination assessment’ (documents 6DD) does not contain a category that encompasses these people. It states that there is a high risk of illness caused by ingestion, dermal contact and inhalation of asbestos fibres and dust during construction, and a high risk of onsite sources of contamination leaching through surface permeable soils and harming construction workers. Surely people walking close to the site during construction will be exposed to as much risk as construction workers? But, while risk to construction works can be mitigated from high to moderate with the appropriate use of PPE and implementation of CDM regulations, what happens to those using the area informally to walk their dogs and play football? How are they going to be protected?
This issue is of particularly concern to local people given the cavalier way the Olympic Delivery Authority, working on the applicant’s land and with the applicant’s oversight, managed the very same situation when the temporary basketball training centre was built on Porter’s Field in 2012. Huge piles of contaminated soil were left uncovered for weeks, and the risks to health were constantly underplayed. This must not happen again. If the development were to be granted permission, it would be critical that robust planning conditions were put in place to protect everyone in the vicinity of the building site from harm.
If the development were to be granted permission, planning conditions should also be put in place that ensure the applicants not only monitor groundwater and gas throughout the build phase, but have a plan in place to fully mitigate any adverse effects of contamination quickly. The LVRPA, in part, justifies this development with reference to the increase in biodiversity that they claim will result. This will mean little if the development has caused significant damage to the environment as it is being built.
Three quarters of a century ago, as war was drawing to a close, the wartime coalition government published Professor Abercrombie’s Greater London Plan. Abercrombie saw the open spaces of the Lea Valley as a great opportunity for regenerative planning. He proposed joining together the green – and blue – open spaces into a ‘great regional reservation’ for the benefit of all Londoners.
More than 20 years later, Abercrombie’s dream became reality. A Regional Park and a Regional Park Authority were created, funded by the ratepayers of London, Essex and Hertfordshire, and stretching for 23 miles, from Stratford in East London to Ware in Hertfordshire. The Authority’s mission, set out in its founding Act of Parliament: to develop, improve, preserve and manage the Park as a place for the occupation of leisure.
The infant Park Authority set about its mission with a will, assembling holdings of land which, here in Hackney and Leyton, included Walthamstow and Leyton Marshes, the Waterworks site and Springfield Marina. Other sites, including the Middlesex and Essex Filter Beds, were added in the 1980s, forming a springboard to create the great regional reservation envisaged by Abercrombie.
Today, we see this vision of the Park threatened and beset from every quarter, from housing developments, land sales and laissez faire planning, and the worst of it is that most of the severe threats come from the Park Authority itself. Far from cohering the Park as a place for the occupation of leisure, round here the Park Authority seems more preoccupied with dismembering it.
What has gone wrong? And what needs to change? Before attempting to answer these questions, let us look at the three main threats to our part of the Lea Valley.
1) The ice centre
The present ice centre was built by the Park Authority in the 1980s. We in Save Lea Marshes do not, for one moment, dispute its role as a popular sporting facility, valued by novice skaters and experts alike, but it is a blot on the landscape. It has urbanised this section of Lea Bridge Road and encouraged house builders to push for development nearby. It is, however, coming to the end of its life.
The way forward, the Park Authority has decided, is a much, much bigger ice centre – two ice rinks side by side, one for elite skaters and one for general use – and they plan to build it on the site of the current building. A new ice rink will be broader and deeper, dominating more of Lea Bridge Road with its broader frontage, pushing back deeper into the Marshes and eating up more protected Metropolitan Open Land.
The Park Authority purportedly reached this decision after carefully scoring the Lea Bridge Road site against three other possible sites, including the Waterworks Centre and car park by Lea Bridge station, and unused land at Temple Mills adjacent to the Lee Valley Hockey and Tennis Centre at the northern end of the Olympic site.
Save Lea Marshes argued that either of those sites, although each with their own issues, would have been better than the current site, less disruptive to the integrity of the Park, more convenient for users and less likely to cause congestion. But the Park Authority chose the present site, using a scoring system that contained many curious assumptions and, most importantly, contained absolutely no weighting for environmental impact. If it had, the ice centre would not be planned for the present site.
We now know that the Authority is working to sell, lease or develop those alternative sites. The Authority will say that it had absolutely no thought of raising money from these sites when it scored them as possible locations for the new ice centre and only looked at raising money from them after they were ruled out. However, we think the facts strongly suggest the Authority had it in mind to sell off those sites all the time.
A small, curious but interesting fact: one reason why the Authority rejected the Temple Mills site was because it was within the blast zone of the storage facilities for the hydrogen-powered buses stationed nearby. That, apparently, made the site a no no for an ice rink. The Authority is now busily negotiating to raise money by leasing the site – more Metropolitan Open Land – for a hotel. Guests can be assured that the Authority no longer considers the blast zone a danger!
Meanwhile the Park Authority has been working, full steam ahead, on the current site and it has already spent a fortune on planning and on consultants.
The Park Authority, with its duty to preserve and manage the Park, appears focused on desecrating Metropolitan Open Land.
2) The Waterworks
Back in the 1980s and 1990s, when governance of the Park was better, the Authority acquired the defunct Essex Filter Beds from Thames Water, creating a muchcherished nature reserve and building the Waterworks Centre as an interpretation centre to serve the Reserve and the Authority’s adjacent pitch-and-putt golf course.
Twenty years or more later, the Authority has closed the pitch-and-putt course and has all but abandoned the Waterworks Centre, which is now rarely open and is virtually devoid of activity. And it has been trying to sell the land for housing.
3) The ex-Thames Water Depot site
Walking down Lea Bridge Road from the Waterworks and towards Hackney, we come to the secret and secluded ex-Thames Water Depot; the site, until the 1980s, of filter beds forming part of the Lea Bridge Waterworks and the site, too, where the Lea Valley Park project was launched at an event addressed by the Duke of Edinburgh in 1964.
Thames Water filled in the filter beds in the early 1980s and subsequently used the site as an operational depot until it no longer needed it and sold it – for £33.3 million + VAT – to the Secretary of State for Communities and Local Government acting on behalf of what is now the Education and Skills Funding Agency (ESFA), which brought forward a plan to build two academy schools. In a bold and principled decision, Waltham Forest Council rejected the ESFA’s planning application as incompatible with the site’s status as Metropolitan Open Land and the ESFA has not appealed the decision. The future of the ex-Thames Water depot is up for grabs.
The Park Authority is now, in one sense, the main player in this saga. However, it did have the opportunity to acquire the site for nothing back in 2011 as compensation for land given up to the Olympic Park Authority. With the lack of vision typical of the Park Authority, it turned down the offer because it could not work out a way of turning the site to ‘good account’.
While the Park Authority purports to care about the future of the site (as part of its statutory planning process, the Park Authority firmly committed itself to supporting ‘Park compatible uses’ for the site), it seems reluctant to step forward and defend the openness of the site. Perhaps Save Lea Marshes’ bold vision for it as a place for wild swimming and a place where people learn to live harmoniously with nature through small-scale food growing or sustainable foraging will capture the Park Authority’s imagination as it seems to be capturing the imagination of local people. We can live in hope anyway!
In the meantime, we continue to be disappointed that the Park Authority failed to snap up the site when it had the chance and thereby failing in its statutory duty to preserve the Park.
The Corporate Land and Property Strategy
Back in 2017, the Authority approved a new Corporate Land and Property Strategy. According to the Authority’s own documents, a mysterious and secretive group called the Land and Property Working Group:
has identified broadly areas of land for potential disposal which could be considered as land not required for regional park Purposes … we will aim to dispose of those parcels of land over the next 10 years when market conditions are appropriate to ensure best capital receipt of revenue income. (emphasis added)
The Park Authority has steadfastly resisted disclosing where these areas of land are. In the meantime, the landholdings the Park Authority has identified as ‘no longer required’ are undoubtedly being left fallow and offered up for development whenever the local riparian councils issue calls for development sites. This is why we strongly suspect, even though the Park Authority won’t say so, that the Authority’s estate at the Waterworks site is on the list for ‘potential disposal’.
This is a strange carry on. When a strategic authority such as the Park Authority is set up to protect and manage open space, it should focus on strategic land assembly in order to carry out its purposes. That is the way other great open spaces, such as Epping Forest and Hampstead Heath, have been built up.
Yet the Park is engaging in an underhand policy of dismemberment.
We accuse the Park Authority
The statutory duties of the Park Authority are clear, and it is failing to exercise it powers and use its resources to protect and enhance the Park as it is required by law to do so.
The Park Authority finds itself in a bind, certainly, one which affects many public bodies when political pressures force it to choose between its own institutional survival and fulfilling its purpose. The political pressure, in this case, comes mostly from Conservative-run councils in South London who are determined to drive down the taxes paid to fund the Park by cutting costs, selling land and building venues they hope will be profitable. In the meantime, the green spaces of Abercrombie’s vision are up for grabs to the highest bidder.
We accuse the Park Authority of defaulting on its purpose; reneging on its commitments and covering up its intentions. We deserve much better.